PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Prominent liberal Democrats opposed 2018’s criminal justice reform, and CNN progressive commentator Van Jones thinks he knows why.
Presidential hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker joined Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee on a May 2017 letter calling the First Step Act “a step backwards.”
“I think publicly they were saying it doesn’t go far enough,” Jones said in a video played at the winter Koch Seminar Sunday morning. “I think privately, they just didn’t want Trump to have a victory.”
The bill was prominently championed by an unlikely alliance of Jones, billionaire industrialist Charles Koch’s libertarian network, President Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner, Kim Kardashian West and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. President Donald Trump signed it into law Dec. 21, at the conclusion of the 115th Congress and just a day before partisan gridlock kicked off the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
While Senate Democrats ended up voting in lockstep for the act, joining the GOP to beat back a 12-vote law-and-order protest, in the House, 57 Democrats, including Reps. Lewis, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Hank Johnson, Elijah Cummings, Al Green and Joseph Kennedy, ended up voting against the law– dwarfing the two Republican nays.
The first 2019 meeting of Koch’s Seminar Network brings together allied leaders and organizations with 634 “partners,” or donors who give $100,000 or more per year, and over 100 new attendees.
The libertarian network, which is made up of largely center-right, conservative and Republican donors, is frequently hit by players on the left and the right, with President Trump targeting them for opposition to his trade and immigration agenda in tweets sent during their July meeting. Despite a reputation for national campaign politics, since its inception in 2003 the network has worked in a number of less political areas, particularly education, community and poverty. Meetings over the past several years, however, have tended to strongly emphasize politics, but 2019 continued a shift away from partisanship. (RELATED: What Washington And The Media Still Get So Wrong About The Kochs)
Jones had protested the Koch Seminar Network in 2011, when its opposition to President Barack Obama and his government take-over of health care were a major target of Koch and his allies. “When I went to that protest, I was focusing on the areas we didn’t have in common, not even aware there were any areas that we did have in common,” he said in the video shown Sunday’s attendees. “I had no idea who was in that building and they had no idea who was outside. They didn’t know what was in my heart, they didn’t know my story and I didn’t know theirs.” (RELATED: Kochs Slam GOP: ‘This Network Will No Longer Follow Anyone’s Lead Or Be Taken For Granted’)
“This idea of basic human dignity, that’s something we do agree on,” he continued. “And once you start realizing, ‘Wait a minute now, there are some principles here in common, and based on that relationship we started taking baby steps toward trying to pass a bill that everyone said wouldn’t pass.”
“This has been such an intractable issue for so many years everywhere,” Koch Industries Special Counsel Mark Holden said in the video, “with the Willie Horton [ad] to the Clinton crime bill, you name it, so we needed broad bipartisan support. We needed a big bipartisan vote on this.”
“There’s a lot of stuff that we’re gonna keep fighting on in America,” Jones said. “I have no problem with that! The problem is there’s a lot of stuff we do agree on that we aren’t working on together at all. You’ve got awesome people and beautiful people on both sides who don’t know what to do together. And if we start working on that, a lot of stuff is gonna get better, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.” (RELATED: Deion Sanders Is On The Same Team As Charles Koch)
“Something about this issue brought out the best in both parties,” he said, adding, to audience laughter: “And then two hours later the government shuts down.”
Editor’s note: Christopher Bedford is editor in chief of The Daily Caller News Foundation, a non-profit that does investigative reporting and trains journalists. It is supported by donors, including individuals, corporations and non-profits, and including The Charles G. Koch Institute and The Charles G. Koch Foundation. From 2010-2011, Bedford was an associate at the Charles Koch Foundation, where he spent a year studying economics, philosophy and business management.